Hurricane Irene’s sweep of the mid-Atlantic coast could help scientists learn a lot about the complex interplay of atmospheric and ocean weather, and Rutgers University researchers are using robot submarines, beachfront radar stations and sensors in space to get at those secrets.
Slocum electric gliders UUV
“We’ve done it with tropical storms…this will be our first time with a hurricane,” said Josh Kohut, an oceanographer and assistant professor at Rutgers’ Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.
The institute owns a fleet of Slocum electric gliders, low-speed robotic probes that can cruise for weeks on battery power, popping to the surface on occasion to transmit their data back to a control center in New Brunswick.
One glider that had been charting the recent algae bloom off New Jersey’s coast was steered farther offshore to ride out the hurricane in deeper waters, and it will return to see how the storm affected that massive plume of microscopic plants in the sea.
Another glider is cruising the edge of the continental shelf, where the relatively shallow water falls off to the depths. That probe will measure how bottom sediment are kicked up by the hurricane’s energy, and spread through ocean water, Kohut said.
Satellites feed the Rutgers laboratory information on weather and sea surface conditions. On Long Beach Island dunes, automated stations based on an old-fashioned radar technology from World War II are measuring waves and currents during the storm. That data helps scientists understand how the ocean is moving under the clouds and wind that meteorologists are tracking, Kohut said. “We’re using all of the technologies that are available,” Kohut said. “We want to know, what are the ocean temperatures doing in response to the storm? With this we are seeing the storm in real time.”